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The Buzzer: Shattenkirk’s redemption; McDavid’s heroics

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Three Stars

1. Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers. There really is not anything to say other than what we said earlier: He took over and he single handedly stole a win for the Oilers. Read about it here

2. Kevin Shattenkirk, New York Rangers. Just now entering the second year of his four-year contract, the Kevin Shattenkirk experience has not been what the New York Rangers were hoping it would be when they signed him due to injury and some ineffective play. On Tuesday night they finally got a glimpse of the player they thought they were getting. Shattenkirk was outstanding for the Rangers in their 3-2 shootout win over the Colorado Avalanche, assisting on two goals and then scoring the game-winner in the shootout. He was also one of the team’s best possession players on the shot attempt chart and was not on the ice for either of the Avalanche goals. In other words: He did what a top-pairing defenseman is supposed to do.

3. Tyler Johnson, Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning prevented the Carolina Hurricanes from matching their best start in franchise history with a 4-2 win that was highlighted by a Tyler Johnson hat trick. The Lightning have now won three of their first four games and should still be one of the best teams in the league thanks to their incredible depth up front. Johnson’s hat trick is the fourth of his career in the regular season.

Here come the Golden Knights

The Golden Knights did not have a great start but there was also an awful lot of bad luck at play there, too. They were playing a lot better than their early record might have had you believe and now the results are starting to match the way they were playing. They were 4-1 winners over the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night, giving them their second win in a row. As always seems to be the case with them, it was their top-line doing the damage. Jonathan Marchessault scored a pair of goals in the win, giving him four on the year, while William Karlsson finally had a breakout game finishing with three points. After scoring 43 goals a year ago he finally got his first of the year on Tuesday night while also adding a pair of assists.

Barkov helps Panthers rally, gain point in wild game against Flyers

The Florida Panthers had a terrible second period in Philadelphia, giving up five goals to face three-goal deficit. They managed to rally and force overtime — where they would lose in a shootout — thanks to a big-time performance from team captain Aleksander Barkov as he scored a pair of goals including the game-tying goal in the third period. This was also a perfect representation of what the Philadelphia Flyers are this season: A chaotic team that can score a ton of goals and give up just as many. Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds both scored a pair of goals for the Flyers in the win, while Jordan Weal recorded two points (goal, assist) and scored the decisive goal in the shootout.

Highlights of the Night

Connor McDavid is amazing and borderline unstoppable when he gets going at full speed. He showed that on Tuesday night with this goal in the first period.

With that goal, as well as his third period goal and two assists, McDavid had scored or assisted on each of the Oilers’ first nine goals of the season, and each of their past 13 goals dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season.

This save by Darcy Kuemper bailed out the Arizona Coyotes on a 3-on-1 rush. This is tremendous goaltending, even if it was not enough to get a win.

Jamie Benn and the Dallas Stars did not score a goal against the New Jersey Devils but he did take part in vicious fight with Miles Wood.

Brock Boeser helped the Vancouver Canucks continue their surprising start with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road. Boeser scored the game-winner in overtime.

Factoids

Kyle Palmieri is on quite the roll for the New Jersey Devils and with his first period goal on Tuesday did something no player in NHL history has ever done before.

The Devils are now 4-0-0 on the season.

Marc-Andre Fleury continues to climb the NHL’s all-time wins list.

Henrik Lundqvist has won a lot of shootouts in his career. He picked up another one on Tuesday night.

 

Scores
Canucks 3, Penguins 2 (OT)
Devils 3, Stars 0
Rangers 3, Avalanche 2 (SO)
Flyers 6, Panthers 5 (SO)
Lightning 4, Hurricanes 2
Wild 2, Coyotes 1
Oilers 5, Jets 4 (OT)
Golden Knights 4, Sabres 1

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Power Rankings: Making sense of early NHL noise

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Trying to analyze the early season results in the NHL can be a bit of a mess.

Those games and points matter — more than most people realize — but they are not always an accurate representation of what teams are. There can be a lot of noise there when a talented team gets off to a slow start because a couple of bounces went against them or their goalie had a bad week, or when a potential non-playoff team starts off on a roll. In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we try to sort through the noise and separate reality from fiction.

This week we’re separating the NHL’s 31 teams into four different tiers:

  • The teams off to the strong start that are for real
  • The teams off to a strong start but the jury is still out them
  • The teams off to a slow start but are going to get beter
  • The mystery teams that could end up going in either direction
  • The teams that are off to slow starts and are not likely to get much better

With that said, on to the rankings…

First Tier: Good start and they are for real

1. Boston Bruins — The Bruins got blown out in the season opener in Washington, but all they have done since is steamroll everyone else they have played. On one hand, yes, they have played four run-of-the-mill teams that are not going anywhere this season. On the other hand, that is exactly what you expect a great team to do to run-of-the-mill teams.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs — The offense is scary good, and it will only get better whenever they find a way to get William Nylander signed. Auston Matthews won’t keep scoring two goals every game but he is still an elite player. Defense and goaltending is going to be a question mark come playoff time but the offense is good enough to make them a force in the regular season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes — Is this it? Is this finally the year? It could be. It might be. I think it is. Not only are the Hurricanes finally looking like the team we have been waiting for them to be, they are also an extremely fun team.

4. Nashville Predators — They laid an egg in their home opener against Calgary and became the butt of many jokes around the league for hanging a banner for pretty much everything they do, but this is still one of the most complete teams in the NHL. And they are playing like it so far.

5. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have only played three games as of Monday, but did you see what they did to a pretty good Columbus team over the weekend? When they are clicking on all cylinders they are as good as it gets.

Second Tier: Good start, but jury is still out

6. New Jersey Devils — The Devils were one of the playoff teams from a year ago that I had my doubts about coming into this season, and while those doubts still remain it’s awfully hard to argue with the early season results. Three wins in their first three games including a dominating 6-0 win over the defending champs and an impressive win over a Stanley Cup contender in San Jose.

7. Anaheim Ducks — Winning four out of six and collecting nine of a possible 12 points while playing mostly without Corey Perry, Ondrej Kase and Ryan Getzlaf is impressive. They haven’t exactly looked good while doing it, and John Gibson is the one doing most of the heavy lifting to carry the team, but that’s why goalies get paid, too.

[Related: John Gibson keeping Ducks afloat]

8. Colorado Avalanche — Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen are picking up where they left off a year ago and doing their thing. That thing? Carrying the offense.

9. Dallas Stars — The Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov trio is making things happen, both individually and as a group. All three have at least eight points through their first four games, while the Stars are outscoring teams by a 6-2 margin and controlling more than 56 percent of the shot attempts when they are on the ice together.

10. Chicago Blackhawks — What does it tell me when a team is 3-0-2 through its first five games with all five games going to overtime while also being near the bottom of the league in goals against? It tells me a lot of things have fallen in their favor early on and that the whole thing might be a giant house of cards waiting to collapse. But those points matter too, and you can’t take them away.

Third Tier: Slow start, but it will not continue

11. Washington Capitals — After demolishing the Bruins on banner raising night they have lost three out of four entering playing on Monday, and at times have not looked great while doing it. But let’s not panic too much. They will get it together.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins — They have had some problems defensively and with their puck management, but that has been the case with this group over the past two years. They are playmakers that play a high-risk, high-reward game. Only a handful of teams in the league can make that work. They are one of them.

13. Winnipeg Jets — They clearly have not hit their stride yet, alternating wins and losses through the first two weeks but the talent on this team is real. Be patient.

14. Columbus Blue Jackets — Artemi Panarin is the backbone of this offense and he is off to an incredible start. He, along with Sergei Bobrovsky, are going to give them a chance to compete this season. The problem is they are at risk of losing them both for nothing after this season. Still a delicate situation for the Blue Jackets’ management to handle.

15. Vegas Golden Knights — Before you start thinking about regression and that last year was a fluke, keep in mind that Marc-Andre Fleury can — and will — be a lot better than he was over the first few games of the season and that they are currently a dominant possession team. They will be better.

[Related: What’s behind Golden Knights’ slow start?]

16. San Jose Sharks — Other than that blowout win in Philadelphia this has not been what we expected from the Sharks at the start of the season. They are clearly still trying to figure things out, but they will.

17. Minnesota Wild — They are pretty much the exact opposite of the Chicago Blackhawks so far in that they have played a lot of close, one-goal games that have gone to overtime, only instead of everything going in their favor, the bounces have worked against them.

Fourth Tier: The mystery teams 

18. Montreal Canadiens — I had no expectations for this team at the start, but they haven’t looked bad. Carey Price can be a difference-maker, but I don’t trust the offense to be good enough to sustain this better-than-expected start.

[Related: How can Canadiens exceed expectations this season?]

19. Calgary Flames — If they are going to do anything this season they are going to need more from Mike Smith because other than the shutout in Nashville he has not been good this season. Johnny Gaudreau is fantastic.

20. Vancouver Canucks — Good news: They have won three of their first five. Bad news: Their best young player is sidelined with a concussion. Worse news: They had a promising start last season, too, (6-3-1 through 10 games), and still finished with one of the league’s worst records. I would anticipate that is where they end up this season.

21. Buffalo Sabres — The big question with Conor Sheary was whether or not he could be a productive player away from Sidney Crosby. The early results in Buffalo are promising with his three goals in four games. If he has a bounce back year that would be a great pickup for the Sabres given how little he cost. Don’t forget about Jeff Skinner, either. There is some talent here, but it feels like we’ve said that about Buffalo before during this perpetual rebuilding phase.

22. Philadelphia Flyers — They can look like a playoff team or a lottery team on any given night. They are the biggest mystery team in the NHL, mainly because their defense and goalie situation is a constant question mark. Early injuries to James van Riemsdyk and Nolan Patrick are not helping.

23. St. Louis Blues — They spent a ton of money and assets to upgrade the offense over the summer, and they are returning a pretty solid defense. But goaltending is really hurting them early on.

24. Los Angeles Kings — They still look like an anemic offense team that is in need of an overhaul. At times they just never seem to be a threat to score, even with players like Anze Kopitar and Ilya Kovalchuk on the roster.

25. New York Islanders — The bottom of the roster is ugly, the defense and goaltending are question marks, but Mathew Barzal has superstar potential and Anders Lee is still scoring without John Tavares next to him.

[Related: Mathew Barzal is Islanders’ reason for hope]

26. Florida Panthers — I wouldn’t read too much into this start of this early ranking. They are winless, but it is also only three games. They are not as good as the team that was nearly unbeatable in the second half last season, and they also aren’t as bad as they were at the start of the season. Having said that, we saw last year what a bad start can do to a team and if they are going to be a playoff team they need to start getting wins. Fast.

Fifth Tier: It is going to be a long season

27. Ottawa Senators — A lot of their early success is driven by a 14.6 team-wide shooting percentage through the first five games. Once that levels off and returns to normal the lack of offense combined with the abysmal defense will be a bad combination.

28. Edmonton Oilers — Connor McDavid has scored or assisted on this team’s past nine goals dating back to the end of the 2017-18 season. He is literally the only thing they have right now.

29. New York Rangers — For the most part they have been competitive and in most of their games, but there just isn’t enough talent here to compete at a high level.

30. Arizona Coyotes — There were a lot of reasons for optimism entering the season — and they still exist — but this is not the start anyone in Arizona wanted, having been shutout in three of their first four games.

31. Detroit Red Wings — There are not many positives here right now. They are every bit as bad as they were expected to be. Maybe even a little worse.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

The Buzzer: Toews’ trick; Chabot puts on a show

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Toews – The Blackhawks followed their game one script in game two, although beating the Blues feels like a bigger accomplishment than eking out a win against the Senators (though people will note that Ottawa has a win and St. Louis does not). Regardless, for the second consecutive game, the Blackhawks rode fantastic performances from their star players.

Toews was strong in Chicago’s first win, yet Saturday was his standout night, as he generated a hat trick, with that third goal coming in OT on a head’s up play. His other two goals were very Toews goals: grinding tallies in the dirty areas of the net.

(While Toews was second to Patrick Kane in Chicago’s first win, Kane was slightly behind Toews in this one, collecting a goal and an assist.)

2. Tyler Seguin – Consider this a collective  star assignment for the killer Stars top line of Seguin (two goals, two assists), Jamie Benn (two goals, one assist), and Alex Radulov (one goal, two assists).

While Dustin Byfuglien drew the Stars’ ire with a questionable hit, the Stars’ high-end firepower turned what would seem like a Central Division showdown into a laugher.

Seguin fired a whopping eight shots on goal, even going 9-3 in the faceoff circle during an impressive night in Dallas. He’s playing as if he’s in a contract year, rather than having already powered up with a Super Mario-sized contract extension.

3. John Gibson – Despite this being the leakiest time of the season for defenses, as teams get used to new systems and rookies get their first exposure to the NHL, there were some great goalie performances on Saturday.

Gibson stood just a little bit taller than some other goalie performances, grabbing another win for an injury-limited Ducks team by stopping all 41 shots to shut out the snakebitten Coyotes.

Much like Seguin, the would-be contract year case is playing as if his extension hasn’t already been settled, winning his first two games while stopping 72 of the first 74 shots he’s faced in 2018-19. If Gibson can stay healthy through 2018-19, he might truly get his recognition as one of the league’s brightest young goalies.

(Andrei Vasilevskiy, another of the NHL’s brightest young goalies, stole one for Tampa Bay against Florida in his own right.)

Most honorable among many honorable mentions:

Thomas Chabot factored in a big way in the Senators’ surprise win against the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals and one assist. It’s hasty to make “Erik Who?” jokes regarding departed defenseman Erik Karlsson, but … you know what, Sens fans? You’ve suffered enough. Go ahead.

Elias Pettersson enjoyed a sensational start to his night, scoring his two goals and one assist through the first two periods of Vancouver’s eventual loss to the Flames, as Johnny Gaudreau‘s line came through with what ended up being comparable box score numbers to the latest sensational Vancouver rookie.

Again, there were a lot of other great performances on Saturday, so feel free to share your picks for honorable mentions, or alternate three stars.

Highlight of the Night

Both of Thomas Chabot’s goals were pretty fantastic against Toronto, but this one really takes the cake:

Saturday was jam-packed with games, so there were some other great moments. Viktor Arvidsson‘s video-game goal can be seen here. Meanwhile, Mikhail Vorobyev’s first goal was more of a low-light, but it should give all but Avs fans – and really, some Avs fans – a chuckle.

As another bonus, Carter Hutton‘s strong night included this “three-on-none” save:

Rough breaks

There are at least two injuries of note from Saturday. Roberto Luongo suffered a lower-body injury and didn’t return for Florida, while James van Riemsdyk endured an unfortunate lower-body issue of his own, not returning to the Flyers game. Both are issues worth monitoring.

Factoids

A lousy night for the Penguins – particularly their defense – featured a milestone moment for Kris Letang.

The Wild haven’t had a knack for finishing strong, but at least they tend to begin seasons on a high note.

Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, seems to sleep through the first month of Maple Leafs seasons.

The Coyotes were haunted by an “0-fer” last season, as they didn’t win a game in October. With that in mind, they must be that much more frustrated after failing to score a goal on 71 shots on net through their first two games of 2018-19, including 41 saves from Gibson on Saturday.

Arizona’s low point probably came late in tonight’s game, as they were unable to tie a 1-0 game with a 5-on-3 power play that was essentially 6-on-3 at times when Antti Raanta was pulled from the Coyotes net.

Winning is tough in the NHL, and sometimes scoring is, too.

Scores

Flames 7, Canucks 4
Devils 5, Oilers 2
Sabres 3, Rangers 1
Senators 5, Maple Leafs 3
Lightning 2, Panthers 1 (SO)
Predators 4, Islanders 3
Canadiens 5, Penguins 1
Stars 5, Jets 1
Blackhawks 5, Blues 4 (OT)
Golden Knights 2, Wild 1 (SO)
Avalanche 5, Flyers 2
Ducks 1, Coyotes 0

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Fantasy Hockey: Goalies and other risky picks for 2018-19

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So far, PHT highlighted sleepers and players due for rebounds in fantasy hockey. Between those two lists, you’ll find quite a few strong value propositions.

Pushing people up the ladder naturally means that someone must go down a few rungs, and that’s where this post comes in.

Before we dive in, please note: none of this is to say that these players are “bad.” Fantasy hockey is ultimately about value, which means making educated guesses about players who are being drafted too soon or being passed up by too many people.

Such a list, then, could be even more vulnerable to changes than the more optimistic sleepers and bounce-back years. After all, “reaching” for a goalie is a lot more reasonable if, say, there are five skater stats and five goalie stats in your league.

[More Fantasy: Pick up the Rotoworld Draft Guide]

Hopefully these general guidelines can help you in just about any format. At worst, it’s a good idea to question things rather than just defaulting to whoever is ranked higher in your draft app.

Reasonable choices, but just too high for goalies

Look, if you make a couple of picks and then decide you just CANNOT DEAL with a lack of goalies, I understand. Just realize that, ultimately, I personally only view there being two semi-reliable “premium” netminders: Andrei Vasilevskiy and Sergei Bobrovsky.

There’s a lot to like with those choices, yet there are issues. Rinne’s struggled many times during his career, and now he must fend off a fantastic backup/goalie-of-the-future in Juuse Saros. Hellebuyck was fantastic, yet has a limited track record, and no longer enjoys contract year motivation. Rask stumbled last season, Andersen plays behind an up-and-down defense, and Gibson’s dealt with injuries and might need to overcome a dicey Ducks team.

Personally, I’d feel comfortable going with a skater in that range, instead. As two examples, Rinne’s ADP lands him right before Blake Wheeler and Brent Burns, while you can grab Johnny Gaudreau, Vladimir Tarasenko, or Artemi Panarin instead of, say, Hellebuyck.

[More Fantasy: Rotoworld’s DFS Toolkit]

I like Martin Jones’ situation, and he’s fine, but I’m not blown away by him, either. If you’re considering a goalie with such a prominent pick, you need to think that he could very well win the Vezina.

Sound the alarms

In a way, it’s comforting that hockey fans still hold Price in a high regard, as it resists some of the “What have you done for me lately?” culture of sports. There’s also the chance that Montreal could exceed expectations amid another dour offseason of dismal moves by Marc Bergevin.

The overall picture of Price is too risky for a top-50 pick, as Price hasn’t performed that well and/or has dealt with striking injury concerns lately.

Quick had a great season in 2017-18, and if healthy, should provide volume, if nothing else. Still, this Kings team could regress out of the playoffs, and Quick’s track record of providing quality along with all that quantity is suspect at best. At least when we’re talking about premium picks. You could get a premium center like Jack Eichel or Mark Scheifele in that range.

“MAF” was absolutely dazzling last season, carrying over an honestly incredible regular season to an almost uniformly impeccable playoff run. (Sure, he struggled a bit against Washington, but Fleury was outstanding overall. As close to heroic as you can get … you know, stopping pucks.)

Still, MAF is 33, rounding out a group of older goalies (Quick is 32, Price is 31). With increased age comes increased risks for injuries and physical decline. Also, the Golden Knights could stink like they were expected to last season, for all we know.

Goalies are already dangerous to draft early, but this trio worries me the most of the top 50 ADP.

Skaters, maybe another goalie or two

In Yahoo formats, Nashville’s first-line forward seems to settle into the 30 range (36 ADP), which seems more or less fine. I’d be a bit more excited about the ceiling of, say, Eichel or Scheifele, but we’re talking slight difference here.

The sticker shock happens in ESPN, however, as I’ve seen him ranked 16th. Sorry, but I’d much rather have Jamie Benn, Steven Stamkos, or Taylor Hall in that range.

At this point, people bash “Wild Bill” for being overrated so often, I now believe that he’s underrated. Karlsson has talent, and if he can stick with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith, a 20-goal season is reasonable.

But he’s being drafted as if he can at least parallel his breakout(of nowhere) 43-goal, 78-point campaign, as his ADP is 61.3. Judging by other players drafted around him, instead of rolling the dice in true Vegas fashion, I’d recommend that you make sure you get at least one elite defenseman in this range, if you haven’t already. I wouldn’t be stunned if Shayne Gostisbehere (67.6) or John Klingberg (69.1) ended up being the top fantasy hockey defensemen of 2018-19, honestly, and they’d be much safer bets than Karlsson. Just saying.

I don’t totally dismiss the possibility that Talbot and the Edmonton Oilers are due for positive regression this season. The problem is that, much like with Carey Price, too-large bets are being made that Talbot will rebound, as his ADP is 75.

My guess is that a lot of people witness a rush on goalies, panic, and settle upon Talbot. Honestly, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if Antti Raanta (a sleeper pick) has a better season, and his ADP is 135.7.

Now, if you’re confident about the Oilers and Talbot’s available around pick, say, 100? Sure, why not.

Lightning round of misgivings and worthy notes

  • Patrik Laine (6.8) – Is there some Winnipeg edict to try to get value out of players while also keeping opportunities down while they’re not under long-term contracts? If so, that’s cagey, kind of evil, and sort of impressive.

Laine is awesome, and he could easily justify being a top-10 pick, but the Jets give him limited ice time (his reps actually went down from his rookie workload by about a minute-and-a-half per night). Yes, Winnipeg boasts a bounty of talented forwards, yet it still feels weird that Laine gets the short straw.

Anyway, when you’re talking about your top picks, being sure is pretty important. Maybe he’ll take off CURIOUSLY after signing an extension? Hmmm …

  • Evgeni Malkin (13.9) – Strictly an injury concern here.
  • Patrice Bergeron (41.5) – Like Malkin, Bergeron was snubbed from “The NHL 100” list, in my opinion. Both are great players, yet they’ve taken their lumps. Bergeron missed 18 games last season and already enters 2018-19 with lingering issues.
  • Brock Boeser, Mikko Rantanen, Mathew Barzal – All three are very, very good young players. Dazzling even. Still, they’re going very high in drafts, and there are slight concerns about them stumbling in encore performances.

I’m not saying don’t draft either one of the three, but maybe wait a little while.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk (77.8) – If you’re like me, you’re jazzed that Kovalchuk is back. It’s like a good friend moving back into town, only without those glances at your larger belly.

That said, Kovalchuk is 35. I’d rather let someone else fit the bill in case he doesn’t really “have it” as much any longer, at least in such a lofty range. Otherwise, you might get the same feeling with Kovalchuk as you do when you realize that you’ve grown apart from your old pal.

(Sheesh, this got sad all of a sudden.)

  • Corey Perry, Seth Jones, other recent injury worries – As always, be careful about injuries. Sometimes a player can have a Yahoo note next to their name that amounts to them having a broken nail. Other times, they could miss a ton of time. How much of a loss does Jones suffer for missing at least one month? That’s up to you to decide, but my feeling is “quite a bit,” especially since he might be nagged by the injury even once he plays.

***

Anyway, that’s enough mild negativity for now. Are there any “reaches” that really stand out to you in fantasy drafts, or rankings? Feel free to share your tidbits in the comments.

MORE:
Sleepers, bargains for 2018-19
2018-19 bounce back candidates

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Spezza wants to be more than ‘good locker room guy’ for Stars

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Jason Spezza is unlikely to play like a $7.5 million guy for the Dallas Stars this season, but it’s tough to imagine things getting worse than they did last season.

Spezza mixed with Ken Hitchcock about as well as wolves get along with sheep in 2017-18, seeing his ice time plummet from 16:10 minutes per game in 2016-17 to a pitiful 13 minutes per night. To put things mildly, Spezza’s numbers suffered, with just 26 points in 78 games. Excluding the 2012-13 lockout (when he generated five points in as many contests), you’d need to go as far back as Spezza’s rookie season to see such a poor point total, and Spezza managed his 21 points in just 33 games all the way back in 2002-03.

Waning confidence could be seen in a number of areas, including a 5.8 shooting percentage, easily a career-low and just the second time Spezza’s endured a sub-10 shooting percentage over 15 seasons.

Brutal stuff, right?

The good news is that his shooting percentage is almost certain to level out, and the even better news – for Spezza, if not the Stars as a whole – is that Jim Montgomery replaced Hitchcock as head coach. That said, at 35, you wonder how much Spezza really has left in the tank.

If nothing else, Spezza told Mike Heika of the Stars website that he has a “fire in his belly” after that miserable 2017-18 campaign. A mixture of pride and the motivation of a contract year should make it certain that, if Spezza has anything left, he’ll show it this season.

“I’m here to play,” Spezza said. “I’ve produced my whole life and I want to do that again. I don’t want to just hang around for intangibles and being a good locker room guy. I’m here to produce — that’s what I expect of myself.”

Amid struggles that could prompt an existential crisis in a less confident athlete, Spezza continued to succeed in the faceoff circle last season, a sneaky-impressive area of his game. The former Senators center won 55.8-percent of his draws in 2017-18, while his career mark is a strong 53.5.

Such successes weren’t lost on Montgomery, who told Heika that he expects Spezza to take more faceoffs in the defensive zone this season. (Spezza began 43.4-percent of his shifts in the defensive zone last season.)

That’s an interesting idea beyond leveraging Spezza’s ability to win draws.

Most obviously, it could open the door for Radek Faksa to enjoy more favorable opportunities. The stealth Selke candidate began just 33.4-percent of his shifts in the attacking zone last season, and one cannot help but wonder if Faksa could enjoy a Sean Couturier-like leap if his workload was relaxed to a substantial degree. The Stars’ top centers (Faksa, Spezza, and Tyler Seguin) were all pretty effective at winning faceoffs last season, which would hopefully inspire Dallas to focus more on landing advantageous matchups, rather than obsessing over who might win or lose a draw.

Of course, Spezza wasn’t talking about faceoff wins when he was discussing production; he wants to put up points and land another NHL gig after this contract year.

The veteran center truly stands as a crucial make-or-break player for the Stars, especially if Dallas continues to load up with a top-heavy first line of Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov.

Through one preseason game, Spezza primarily lined up with Valeri Nichushkin (another Stars forward who could go either way, really) and Mattias Janmark. Via Natural Stat Trick, Janmark stood out as Spezza’s most common linemate last season, so we’ll see if that combination sticks even with coaching changes. You could do worse than Spezza with Janmark and Nichushkin, a trio that would have a lot to prove, even if Spezza’s in a very different phase of his career.

It’s important to remember that Spezza’s not that far removed from being the productive scorer he hopes to be. He generated 50 points in 2016-17, and that total came in 68 games. Before that, Spezza rattled off three consecutive seasons with at least 62 points.

Considering his age and the possibility that Faksa and others might push Spezza for power play reps and other opportunities, it might be too much to ask for Spezza to hit 60+ points in 2018-19. Despite that $7.5M clip, the Stars would probably be quite happy if the veteran landed in the 50 range, especially if he can juggle that with increased defensive duties.

That would make him “good in the room” and on the ice.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.